Plans have been delayed to convert the 70-acre Turtle Woods property in Troy into a protected park after the state rejected a grant proposal.

Plans have been delayed to convert the 70-acre Turtle Woods property in Troy into a protected park after the state rejected a grant proposal.

Photo provided by Melissa Prowse

Turtle Woods county park plans on hold after failure to secure grant

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published January 9, 2024


TROY — Plans to establish a 70-acre protected county park on a Troy School District property are on hold after grant funding for the project could not be obtained.

The land in question is known as Turtle Woods, located on Square Lake Road, between John R Road and Dequindre Road. The land is owned by the Six Rivers Land Conservancy on a land contract from the Troy School District. This ownership arrangement allows Six Rivers to negotiate a sale through the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department.

The property consists of wetlands and prairies, with numerous flora and fauna. The school district decided in 2018 to split the property and sell the 6 acres on Square Lake Road for development, but devote the bulk of the property, which is over 70 acres, for natural preservation.

Troy Board of Education President Karl Schmidt said the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund typically requires properties to move from private to public ownership in order to secure the grant money. The Troy School District has an ability to revert to ownership of Turtle Woods if they don’t approve of the next proposed buyer offered by Six Rivers.

“Section 1, also known as Turtle Woods, was purchased by the Troy School District in 1967 as a potential site for a new high school, but population trends in Troy as it was later built out made a third large high school unnecessary,” Schmidt explained in an email. “We have held the land and previous boards had hoped to preserve it as some type of natural space and passed resolutions to that effect. Environmental analysis in more recent years has shown that our lack of land management expertise has put additional pressure on the ecosystem there as invasive plant species have entered from surrounding subdivisions and damaged the space. We now know we need an expert like Oakland County Parks who can remove those invaders and encourage the native species there to thrive. We have essentially come to realize that the only way we can preserve this amazing educational resource for our students and broader community is to partner with a trusted organization with the know-how to make that happen.”

Melissa Prowse, the manager of planning and development services for the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department, said that the grant funding necessary to establish the park and purchase the property from the school district could not be secured due to the volume of high-profile projects applying to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund this year.

“We have applied to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund for a grant to purchase the property from Six Rivers (at the appraised value of $3,640,000),” she said. “This month, we found out we weren’t awarded that grant. We all agreed at the trust fund board meeting that it was a good idea, but we didn’t have (sufficient) points that they use to score applicants. There were too many other good projects ... we applied for $3,750,000 total, rounding up slightly knowing that property values change over time and that we’ll likely need a revised appraisal prior to the actual acquisition transaction.”

Schmidt said that while the school district’s leadership is behind the sale, they need to secure a reasonable price, valued at least at the appraised value, for the sale to be responsible stewards for the district.

“Oakland County Parks does not have the budget to purchase the land outright, and the School Board has a fiduciary responsibility to capture some revenue for the plot if we divest,” Schmidt wrote. “We worked with Six Rivers and Oakland County Parks in 2022 to develop a grant proposal through a Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund program that provides up to 50% of the appraised value of the land. The funds are limited each year, and a proposal gains ‘points’ if the seller discounts the selling price. The Troy School District and Six Rivers discounted the selling price by 25% in our 2023 application, but we narrowly missed funding anyway.”

Prowse said all parties involved are still optimistic about the project even if it means waiting another year.

“We remain very optimistic about this,” she said. “We are still very committed to making this property an Oakland County parks nature preserve. We, obviously, were hoping to get funding this year. We agreed beforehand that if we didn’t get the funding this year, that we will try again. We get to reapply in April, and they will tell us in December 2024 if we get it,” Prowse said. “When we talk about a nature preserve, we mean a place preserved for the quiet enjoyment of nature. People can go there to relax and restore. It will have some trails, some bathrooms near a parking lot, maybe some boardwalks, but that would be about it.”

Schmidt agreed that while there is currently support for the project moving forward, long-term delays could spell trouble.

“Short term, the property will not be sold for development because the current Board of Education is highly supportive of preservation. We will continue to work with Oakland County Parks on the 2024 application and hopefully be successful with a 2024 grant,” he wrote. “If that second attempt is unsuccessful, next steps will depend on how/whether Oakland County Parks still wants to pursue acquisition. I worry more about the long term. Three board seats are up for election in 2024. Two more are up in 2026. That means within three years there could be a substantial change in Troy School District governance, and there is nothing that would prevent a future board from selling Section 1 for development if a majority of trustees at some future point had a strategic use for the proceeds of a land sale. Shifting ownership to Oakland County Parks in 2024 is our best chance to guarantee preservation of Turtle Woods in perpetuity.

“We did a community survey about eight years ago and found that two-thirds of Troy residents wanted the Troy School District to develop a viable preservation plan for the plot,” wrote Schmidt. “We have pursued multiple preservation possibilities since. … If you want this 70-acre parcel preserved, let your voice be heard at the county and state levels. Write to your Oakland County commissioner and tell them to provide funding if the state funding proves inadequate. Write to your state representative and state senator and ask them to be aware of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund funding recommendations in 2024 and indicate their support to the committee for this project. We need some squeaky wheels, and Turtle Woods is well worth the effort.”

“There are also several natural benefits to turning this into a nature preserve, including improved stormwater management, improved water quality, improved air quality, and more shade in the area,” agreed Prowse. “This would be a great thing for the community.”